8 Tips for the Smithsonian and FREE museums in DC

Washington DC has some of the best museums in the entire world. In this video

I'm going to give you eight tips to help you get the most out of them.

HELLO! Welcome to Trip Hacks DC. My name is Rob.

I'm a tour guide here in the nation's capital. If you're coming to Washington DC

and you're looking for the best tips, tricks, and hacks for exploring the city, make sure to subscribe to this channel and hit the bell

notification icon so that you don't miss anything. And if you're interested in having me show you around when you come, head on over to

my website

afterwards, to see the tours that I offer. There are well over a dozen amazing and

completely free museums in Washington DC. In this video

I'm going to give you 8 tips to make sure you don't leave disappointed. If you live in or been to Washington DC

leave a comment on this video and let me know which museum is your favorite. Otherwise,

let's get started...

Tip number one: plan ahead.

There are so many museums and exhibits that it can feel overwhelming by the time that you get here.

I find that it's really helpful to look at the websites for the Smithsonian

and the National Gallery of Art so that you can see what exhibits are going to be on display when you get here, and if

you've watched my must-have apps video

you'll remember that there are smartphone apps for these museums that you can download and

bookmark exhibits that interest you. I'll leave links in the description so you can download these apps.

The other reason you want to plan ahead is because some museums and exhibits require a special ticket in order to attend. For example

right now in 2017 you need a timed ticket if you want to attend the Smithsonian's brand-new

African American History and Culture Museum. It's a free ticket

but you need one if you want to go. You can get a ticket online months in advance if you're planning that far ahead

or the Smithsonian releases a limited number of tickets on the website at 6:30 every morning as well. Sometimes

there are even

specific exhibits that require a ticket even if the museum itself doesn't. So make sure to check the website in advance so that you don't

arrive disappointed.

Tip number two: don't overdo it. I cannot emphasize enough

how real museum fatigue can be. Since so many of the museums in DC are completely free

tourists often try to cram in as many as they possibly can during their trip. This often just leads to them being completely

exhausted by the end. Think of it another way, if you went to a different city that didn't have so many free museums,

you wouldn't just go and buy a ticket to every single museum in town and then try to cram all of them in during your

trip. You'd probably pick one, maybe two of the museums that interest you the most and just visit those. That's the same strategy

you should pursue in DC as well.

Yes, museums are free

but they're also huge which means you're going to do a lot of walking, which is physically draining and reading, which is mentally draining.

So for this reason I suggest picking two or three museums for a one-week long trip or

one to two museums for a weekend trip. And remember that while these museums are

excellent educational opportunities, kids don't have quite the same attention span as adults and they get worn out a little more quickly.

Tip number three:

go against the flow. Because many of them are free, some museums can get very very crowded.

This is especially true for the big three: Air and Space,

Natural History, and

American History.

These are some of the most visited museums in the entire world. You can use a few basic strategies to avoid the heaviest crowds.

For example if you're visiting a museum when it first opens at 10:00 a.m.

go to the exhibit that's farthest away from the door first.

Most people naturally walk into a museum and then go straight to whatever exhibit is closest to them.

You can go up in the elevator to say, the top floor, and start seeing the exhibits up there to get maybe an hour or two

with fairly limited crowds.

Tip number four: use the "back doors".

This is a hack that a lot of Washington DC locals

have been using for a long time. Most museums on the National Mall have two entrances, one that's facing the grassy park

we call the National Mall, and another facing either Independence or

Constitution Avenues depending on which side it's on. Tour buses only unload on the National Mall side and there is nothing worse than getting stuck

behind a busload of 8th graders on a school field trip. Museum security is kind of like airport security, they'll ruffle through your bag and

make you walk through a metal detector. In some ways

it's even worse because you can't use your TSA precheck.

Going through the non-bus door doesn't guarantee that you won't have to wait in a line

but it does reduce the risk that you'll get stuck behind a huge group.

Tip number five:

leave the National Mall. Even though most museums in DC are located right on the National Mall

there are some other really great museums that are scattered around the city as well. A few blocks north of the Mall you'll find the National

Portrait Gallery

and the Smithsonian's American Art Museum,

two different museums that share the same building and have an amazing courtyard inside. The Portrait Gallery is exactly what the name suggests, a

museum of portraits, including the very popular Hall of Presidents. Across the street from the White House on the north side of Pennsylvania Avenue

you'll find the Renwick Gallery,

which is a Smithsonian art museum that focuses on crafts and other decorative art, and it has a lot of cool rotating exhibits that come

through. The museum was closed from 2013 to 2015 for a major renovation

so if you last visited DC

during that time you might not have even known about the museum at all. Lastly, a personal favorite of mine is the National Postal Museum

which is located right next to Union Station. A lot of people take for granted as a mail is kind of boring,

but the Postal Museum is a really interesting look at American history through the lens of the postal service.

And if you're a stamp collector

you're going to love it here.

They have some of the most amazing stamp collections in the entire world. And a bonus hack is you can buy stamps at the gift

store here 7 days per week,

so you don't have to make a special errand to one of our post offices.

Tip number six:

seek out good food. If you're seeing the museums down on the National Mall, that part of town is not exactly known for having very

good food.

Make sure to check out my video on what to eat and what to avoid when you're down on the Mall. Every museum is going

to have a little cafe. They're fine, you'll get fed,

but you also probably won't have a very memorable meal. The exception to this is at the Smithsonian American Indian Museum,

which I highly recommend if you're in the area.

Or if you can get a ticket, the Sweet Home Cafe at the African American History and Culture

Museum. And unless there's some sort of fast food connoisseur,

don't eat at the McDonald's at the Air and Space Museum.

Nobody wants to pay museum prices for the same Big Mac you can get anywhere else in the world.

Tip number seven:

take advantage of docent led tours. A lot of the museums offer free highlight tours a few times every day. These are led by

highly trained and extremely knowledgeable

volunteer tour guides. If you think you might be interested in a museum, but aren't quite sure about some of the exhibits, a highlight

tour is a great way to get an overview.

The one downside is that since these are free tours the group sizes can get fairly large.

But I wouldn't let that deter you from taking one.

Tip number eight: take advantage of extended hours. Most museums close at 5:30 p.m.

every day, but there are a few exceptions. The Portrait Gallery and American Art Museum are open until 7 p.m.

every day, and in the summer the big three, Air and Space, Natural History and American History

offer extended hours, where they say open two extra hours until 7:30 p.m.


selected dates during the summer. It is extremely important that you check the extended hours

calendar on the Smithsonian website to make sure that you know which dates are having extended hours for which museums.

I'll leave a link to that calendar in the video description.

I do need to caveat there are extended hours happening in the summer of 2017, but these are not guaranteed year-to-year,

so definitely make sure to check back before your trip to make sure that extended hours are happening. And that's it!

Thank you for watching this video. If you found it helpful

you can subscribe to my channel by clicking on the Trip Hacks DC

logo that's popping up right now at the bottom of the screen. And if you're coming to DC

and you want to have me show you around when you get here

you can click on the Capitol dome that's popping up on the left side of my head, that will take you over to my website where you can see the tours that I offer. Enjoy your trip!